Caramel apple is certainly nothing new — and that’s precisely the point. The indulgent, autumnal flavor, lately seen in a crop of new limited-edition product launches, evokes memories of crisp nights, hayrides and Halloween. The tart, sweet treat has inspired recent innovation from the Kellogg Co., the Hershey Co., Hostess Brands and more.

“Snack and candy companies have clearly identified ‘limited time offer’ and seasonal offerings as a way to combat some of the headwinds facing their categories, and autumn has especially been targeted as a key selling window,” Alan Owen, marketing director, sweet flavors, at Sensient Flavors, Hoffman Estates, Ill., told Food Business News. “Much like pumpkin spice, caramel apple is very versatile in applications ranging from ice cream to snack cakes.”

But unlike pumpkin spice, which some may consider a polarizing flavor, caramel apple carries broader appeal across age groups, Mr. Owen says.

“Plus, many retailers merchandise caramel apples in their produce sections beginning in late summer, promoting top-of-mind awareness,” he adds.

The flavor combination lends itself to “infinite” applications, Mr. Owen says, citing sweet baked foods, frozen dairy, yogurt, dips and even beverages as examples.

To stand out in a sea of caramel apple innovation, product manufacturers may contemporize the flavor, Mr. Owen says.

“The most obvious is to make a sea salt caramel apple, as the salt enhances both the fruit and the confection,” he says. “Creating a spiced caramel with rosemary or, say, ginger, can yield very premium and unique results as well.”

But with all the new caramel apple innovation hitting shelves this season, one may wonder whether the flavor is poised to eclipse pumpkin spice as fall’s hottest food trend.

“I think in some ways it already has,” Mr. Owen says. “It just doesn’t have the buzz around it like pumpkin spice because it’s been around for some time.”

Learn more at Food Business News.